The problems with content today
3 The end of the book metaphor
3 Poorly structured and written information fails to get the message across
3 The content silo trap
3 Too much information
Why content management is an issue
4 We’re all in the publishing industry
4 From Content Management to a Content Management System
The need for separation of content, structure and presentation
5 Separation of content and presentation
5 Separation of content and structure
6 Make it happen, the CM methodology
About content mapping
The life cycle of content
7 Content objects
8 Information typing
10 From content objects to information types to blocks
11 Topical writing or writing in content objects
13 Rules of thumb for creating a controlled vocabulary or thesaurus
15 From taxonomy to folksonomy
16 Grouping methods for classification
The problems with content today
The end of the book metaphor
From the beginning of the history of writing, authors have written and organised information
to ﬁt the context of a book or a document, usually with a speciﬁc audience in mind, and with
a clear plan of how the information will be presented: a title page, a table of contents and an
introduction at the beginning, followed by a number of chapters, and annexes and an index in
Today, this book metaphor has become inadequate. In environments where documentation
is used in diﬀerent contexts, for diﬀerent purposes, and using diﬀerent formats, writers often
do not know how or where information will be published — as a linear sequence of pages in a
paper manual, as a complex network of chunks linked through hypertext in an online help, on
the intranet, or on a small-screen device.
Poorly structured and written information fails to get the message
In today’s information-based economy, business documentation must be prepared rapidly,
clearly, and concisely to meet high performance communication needs. The agility to quickly
make fast and informed decisions is increasingly critical to success. Information that is
poorly structured and written fails to get the message across. Artiﬁcial jargon and complex
constructions most often are the villains.
The content silo trap
Many large organisations fall into the content silo trap and store the same information in
multiple repositories, across multiple departments. Often the same information is created and
maintained more than once, augmenting maintenance costs considerably.
Too much information
Today’s enterprise produces more information than ever before. This information is stored in
reports, e-mails, slide shows, and spreadsheets or published on the company intranet or web
site. According to the Gartner Group, unstructured information doubles every three months.
Employees require consistent and predictable access to this growing corpus of knowledge
to eﬃciently do their jobs. However, as new pieces of content are added, the ability to ﬁnd
applicable and pertinent information weakens.
“We are drowning in information, but are starved of knowledge”. John Naisbitt, Megatrends (1982)
NAMAHN Content Mapping 3
Why content management is an issue
We’re all in the publishing industry From Content Management to a Content
Up till a decade ago, few companies were in the Management System
publishing industry — most provided other kinds of The larger the volume of the content being produced,
goods and services. Today however, companies of all the more useful and persuasive a CMS becomes.
sizes are beginning to realise that they have to create However, a CMS cannot create order where there
and maintain what is in essence a constantly updated is none. Moreover a CMS is almost never a piece of
publication: their corporate web site or intranet. To software that comes out-of-the-box. Rather it is a
succeed, it is important to set up an editorial process platform/framework for building a custom content
and to develop the right set of publishing skills. application based on an organisation’s needs.
And as corporate content grows and gets more To deﬁne the architecture of a CMS and the features
structured, so too should the editorial staﬀ. Having the it has to oﬀer, you need to ﬁgure out how corporate
proper personnel into place will insure that corporate content is created, how it travels through its lifespan,
content: and the uses to which it is put. And because corporate
content is created, maintained and used by humans,
it is mandatory to deﬁne the diﬀerent interactions
• is reliable, consistent, up-to-date and on-brand
people have with documents. The content mapping
• serves the goals of the author and organisation
methodology helps your organisation:
• meets the needs of the reader
• To identify the processes and workﬂow that drive
the technical requirements for your organisation’s
• By providing a common language that will bridge
the gap between the software engineers and the
personnel in your organisation (the editors, authors,
designers and managers who run the departments).
Questions to address
• What corporate content does our organisation own?
• Where does it reside? What’s the format? Is it structured?
• Which content is high value? Which is low value?
• Is the content purely informational content or also
• Who interacts with the content? At what stage?
• What is the editing culture like? Do authors use structure-
aware tools or templates? What should they use in future?
• How will our corporate content be read or viewed? On paper,
• How can the information be searched? By table of contents,
by index, by full-text search, by keywords, by browsing
hyperlinks, by other methods?
The need for separation of content,
structure and presentation
A successful organorganistion communicates with its
customers and staﬀ eﬃciently across diﬀerent media,
ranging from paper-based brochures and manuals,
to web sites, intranets and small screen devices. To
succeed, it is important to set up a strategy for single-
sourcing that enables the re-use and re-purposing of
content. At the heart of any single-sourcing strategy,
lies the job of separating the structure and layout from
Separation of content and presentation Separation of content and structure
A separation between content and style allows the Managing structure independently from content
same content to be published in diﬀerent media, using objects ensures a high percentage of re-use and re-
diﬀerent style guidelines. To achieve this, style-control purposing of information:
elements must be stored independently from the
content. Style-control elements are those deﬁning what • The same content object can appear under diﬀerent
the content should look like when published, including structural classiﬁcations.
fonts, colors, line spacing, page format, etc. • Navigation maps can deliver customized, dynamic
documentation to end-users.
• Every actor in the information chain can create new
NAMAHN Content Mapping 5
Make it happen, the CM
About content mapping The life cycle of content
Content Mapping is the framework used by Namahn’s Delivering uniform and high-quality corporate
information designers to combat information overload content requires investing in an infrastructure
and turn unstructured information into manageable that can create and maintain correct and relevant
and re-usable document-like content objects, ready for information, and make it available to the organisation’s
multiple purposes. customers or service staﬀ. A well-designed content
management approach encompasses a smooth process
The aim of Content Mapping is to provide for information authoring, maintaining, storing and
organisations with an integrated approach that delivery, supported by the appropriate information
allows increasing the degree of formality in corporate infrastructure.
information, without undue investment.
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> MAKE IT HAPPEN, THE CM-METHODOLOGY
Top-down versus bottom-up What is a content object?
Traditionally, the most common approach among A content object is a manageable chunk of information
writers is to write top-level topics ﬁrst, followed by the organised around a topic (a product, a process, a
subordinate topics that go under them. We call this function, a theme, ...). It’s a standalone unit that can
method, based on a pre-deﬁned outline, a top-down be re-used diﬀerently depending on the audience,
approach. Today however, information often has to purpose, or delivery method. Typically, it is a title
be created independently of a particular context. This followed by text and images, divided into sections by a
implies that subordinate topics have to be generated number of headings.
ﬁrst and then later grouped into a larger structure. We
will call this a bottom-up strategy.
Granularity: what’s the size of a content object?
A bottom-up strategy gives the writer more ﬂexibility, The size or structure of a content object depends on its
but is not easy to carry out: every chunk of information granularity or level of detail. Content objects can be
is always created within a particular context. A bottom- assembled at diﬀerent levels of granularity:
up approach however, implies that information has
to be created independently of the structure it was • Finely grained content object at the lowest level: e.g.
originally intended for. This obvious contradiction a procedure describing how to perform a change
between the need for content to be reusable and the request, an FAQ on a new product, a company
need for content to depend on its context cannot be policy …
eliminated. The trade-oﬀ that appears to oﬀer the most • Coarsely grained content objects at higher levels: a
favorable balance between re-usability and context- 30 page manual, a database with 2.000 customer
dependence is captured in the notion of the content records, a division of the intranet, an online
object. tutorial …
NAMAHN Content Mapping 7
Blurbs, as short previews of content objects
A blurb is a tight descriptive introduction to a content
object. It is a line or short block of text that informs
the reader what kind of information he will ﬁnd in a
Though not easy to write, blurbs prove to be very An information type speciﬁes the purpose of (parts of)
beneﬁcial for users when interacting with content. a content object by describing its purpose, independent
Dennis G. Jerz, in his weblog on new media of how that object will be delivered. Some common
journalism, deﬁnes blurbs as “brief summaries of what information types are procedures, topics, facts, terms,
a reader will ﬁnd on the other end of a hyperlink. Good deﬁnitions, prices, product numbers and descriptions.
blurbs don’t harangue (“Click here!”) or tease (“Learn
ten great tips.”); instead, they provide a useful sample When you begin to analyse your corporate content
of the target page, so that a user can make an informed and future requirements, think about your content
decision about whether to click.” 1 according to its information type rather than its format.
You will soon discover that many information types
can be re-used. Your product description should be the
same, regardless of where it is published.
1 Blurbs, Writing Previews of Web Pages
> MAKE IT HAPPEN, THE CM-METHODOLOGY
Best practices in information typing
Some well-known projects using the concept of
information types are:
• Information Mapping™, a method to create and
present information, has deﬁned seven information
types that should be able to cover all sorts of cor-
porate information: procedure, process, structure,
concept, principle, fact, classiﬁcation.1
• The Darwin Information Typing Architecture
CONCEPT REFERENCE TASK
(DITA), an innovative XML-based information
architecture, has deﬁned a basic set of three core
DEFINITION FACTS, HOW TO DO
DESCRIPTION DATA, SOMETHING
An extended deﬁnition (description) of a topic. Typi-
cally a concept contains a title, some text, and maybe DEFINE OVERVIEW PERFORM
an example or a graphic.
¬ Task (or procedure, instruction)
A number of steps, describing how to do something.
This information type refers historically to the task-
¬ Reference Consider the introduction of a new product: the
three core information types could be used to create
An overview of the constituent parts (characteristics)
a content object ‘Product manual’. The order of the
of a product, an organisation, an application, ... A
information types in the product manual could be as
reference contains mostly data-oriented (rather than
illustrated in the ﬁgure above:
text-oriented) information that is often stored in a
database (numbers, addresses, codes…). A reference
• First a full description of the new product;
refers historically to the reference manual.
• followed by an overview of all its characteristics and
The set is not only easy to understand (and explain); it
• ﬁnally, all the tasks that can be performed with the
can also be extended, according to the speciﬁc needs
of an organisation. A new info type ‘company policy’
for instance can easily be mapped on the existing info
type ‘concept’. DITA has deﬁned a set of inheritance
rules, that deﬁne how new information types can be
created: “each specialised information type must map More info on Information Mapping™
to an existing one, must have the characteristics of its
parent information type, and must be more restrictive 2 More info on “The Darwin Information Typing Architecture”
in the content that it allows. ”
NAMAHN Content Mapping 9
From content objects to information
types to blocks
Blocks are situated at the lowest level of the information CONCEPT REFERENCE TASK FAQ POLICY
infrastructure. They are the most ﬂexible, modular part title item title question rule
of the whole, enabling us to specify information types definition description prerequisite answer note
in further detail. note step 1 tip
What is a block?
A block is the most ﬁnely grained component of
content that requires individual treatment. It is at most
one page in size and can contain paragraphs of text,
INFOTYPE 1 INFOTYPE 2 INFOTYPE 3 ...
data, formulas and ﬁgures. Diﬀerent kinds of blocks
can be speciﬁed for speciﬁc purposes: title, intro,
block 1 block 1 block 1 ...
deﬁnition, step, result, tip, warning, rule, etc.
block 2 block 2 block 2 ...
block 3 block 3 block 3 ...
We distinguish two kinds of blocks:
block 4 block 4 block 4 ...
block ... block ... block ... ... ¬ Key blocks:
Key blocks determine a particular information type.
They can be mandatory or optional: e.g. step and
result are mandatory key blocks in a procedure, ques-
tion and answer in an FAQ.
¬ Additional blocks:
Additional blocks are not linked or essential to a
particular information type: e.g. all information types
can contain a tip, a warning … Additional blocks are
> MAKE IT HAPPEN, THE CM-METHODOLOGY
Best practices: a tribute to Robert Horn Modularity of the information architecture
Robert Horn is generally known as the man who Content objects, information types and blocks can all
revolutionised technical writing by kicking out be managed as components:
the paragraph and replacing it by the block. In his
landmark Structured Writing approach, he states that • It is possible to add or remove blocks in information
the paragraph is too fuzzily deﬁned, too vague to be types, as it is possible to add or remove information
a consistent, reliable unit of information. According types in content objects.
to Horn “Information blocks are the basic units of • New information types or content objects can
subject matter [...] They replace the paragraph as the be deﬁned when the existing ones do not comply
fundamental unit of analysis and of presentation. They anymore.
are composed of one or more sentences and/or diagrams
about a limited topic. They usually have not more than Topical writing or writing in content
nine sentences. They are always identiﬁed clearly by a objects
label.” Topical writing is bottom-up writing. This means
authors have to start writing content objects often
without having a larger context or pre-deﬁned structure
Creating information types with blocks (such as a table of contents). Moreover content objects
can be published on the web as well as on paper. Is
writing for the web any diﬀerent from writing for print?
If you are lacking experience or feel unsure, then the
option is to continue to write documents as usual and
to have a separate process for evaluating the extent
to which those documents can be broken down into
reusable content objects. If you have ever written an
online help, or are skilled in structured writing, then
topical writing should be the option.
1 “Structured Writing at twenty five” by Robert E. Horn
Rules of thumb for topical writing
• A topic has one subject, signified by the title. • Wording in topics is independent of any other topic. Each
• At its lowest level, a topic is small enough to be assimilated topic is a standalone unit.
by the reader in one go. • Make extensive use of meaningful subtitles. They are
• Generally that’s no more than a screen or two of info, important for search engines and scannability.
online. Traditionally, it is content under heading 3 or • Make use of ordered lists.
NAMAHN Content Mapping 11
Labels are the actual words you use to deﬁne categories When dealing with transactional content, labels
for your content objects. They are what the user sees should include calls to action. Labels like “Subscribe to
when he looks at a website’s main menu or sitemap. newsletter”, “Download PDF” or “Register” can be very
Choosing labels with care is equally as important as eﬀective in guiding the visitor.
how you chunk and structure your content in the ﬁrst
place. Good labels always take the visitor through a
progression of approach to the business involved. Do
it well and you help users ﬁnding the information
they are looking for — even if there are actually great
complexities being communicated.
Rules of thumb for labeling
• Labels should be clear, contrastive and distinct from others.
• Try to keep labels short, but don’t be afraid to make them
longer for clarity.
• Do not use jargon, industry standards or the company’s
• Avoid buzzwords or fuzzy terms.
• Two is sometimes more than one. A common technique that
lets you be more descriptive while keeping the labels short
is the use of two-word labels: hotels & travel, research &
development, kids & family.
• Use the same labels as the target audiences use. Speak the
language of the user.
• Try to tell a story.
• When you go international, make sure the labels are not tied
to a specific language and can easily be translated.
> MAKE IT HAPPEN, THE CM-METHODOLOGY
Rules of thumb for creating
a controlled vocabulary or thesaurus
Closely related to labels and labeling systems are be easily understood and aﬀords control over the
corporate thesauri and controlled vocabularies. information environment.
A thesaurus is a collection of preferred terms, used to A thesaurus can (partly or completely) act as a
assist in a more precise retrieval of content. A thesaurus controlled vocabulary, providing terminology for
reveals hierarchical (parent-child), associative (related) populating values in metadata schemes, systems,
and equivalent (synonyms, variants) relationships navigation maps, classiﬁcations, and taxonomies/
among terms. Deployed within an organisation, ontologies.
a thesaurus fosters communication and shared
understanding throughout the enterprise, allowing
everyone to describe information in a way that can
Rules of thumb for creating
a controlled vocabulary or
Creating and maintaining a good company thesaurus is
challenging. Below are some considerations and guidelines.
• Identify who will be using the thesaurus and how.
• Gather input from all business units.
• File structures, department structures, filing systems,
databases, and other legacy organisational schemes can
provide valuable input for the terminology definition
• In order to be effective, the terminology in a thesaurus must
be scoped by the user community and its language.
• Define preferred terms.
• Identify synonyms.
• Identify abbreviations and acronyms.
• Identify broad and narrow terms (hierarchical and
• To reach all the users and reflect all the content, you may
need to develop multiple types of vocabularies. Examples
include vocabularies organised by user role, topic, task, or
NAMAHN Content Mapping 13
Metadata is generally deﬁned as ‘data about data’, The distinction between data and metadata is not
and refers to any data used to support the dimensions absolute; in some circumstances data can be metadata,
of use of a content object. The term is not new. As and plain data in other circumstances. To identify
long as people have been collecting information – be metadata involves analysing the structure of the
it in a library, a museum, or any other institution content, and exploring the workﬂow applied to create
– they had to get hold of ways to properly organise and maintain the content. Some things to keep in
that information. The catalog that originated in the mind:
traditional library world – with commonly known
ﬁelds as “Author”, “Title” and “Subject” – is the • Metadata are hard to maintain, so they should be
classical example of metadata. kept to an absolute minimal. On the other hand,
a limited set of carefully developed metadata can
Today metadata serve, sometimes simultaneously, serve as a fundamental resource for knowledge
several functions: management within the enterprise.
• Most metadata will be identiﬁed during the
• Semantic analysis (title, subject, keywords, content publishing process of a content object. Pay a lot of
rating, …) attention to meaningful titles and subtitles, provide
• Workﬂow analysis (author, reviewer, versioning, well-chosen categories, and make use of keywords.
property rights, …)
• Access and publishing (ﬁlename, size, extension,
creation date, …)
Proc ess > MAKE IT HAPPEN, THE CM-METHODOLOGY
Classiﬁcation deals with the process of bringing together content objects according to a grouping method or
navigational model. The traditional approach for classifying content objects is to place them in an authoritative,
hierarchical tree structure such as those used in scientiﬁc classiﬁcation schemes. Today such closed classiﬁcation
schemes are commonly used in book publication, databases and knowledge management systems.
Tabl The in wled
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of c ge b
Introd ra or
Assu nce Aval ité pare
Chap uction >p
ter 1: Assu nce do rodu
Avan e 0.
rule Assu e pers ages
01.0 Avan Mon
Avan ment lice
01.0 About on serv er de
Assu nce Vi nes Corsa o erv
01.0 Safety e CSP e
ra Avan ge mat hoirie ic
Assu nce sant es
01.0 Specifi structio ...... Tran
ntra monia oir libér
Assu nce in é/prévoy . sp
2 Con catio l
ns t (en Produ ort
ns... .... di
Assu nce m viduelle ance imm
...... ...... obili rance aladie
Chap acci er)
ter 2: ...... de
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ilatiè mplem nt cia
02.0 Getting nes
Doc t nne
3 W ring....... ......... en
in th .........
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ter 3: Invo
02.0 Where 0.4.
02.0 Proces outs...... ning
3 Lo ......
From taxonomy to folksonomy
A new and promising approach to classiﬁcation is a folksonomy or social classiﬁcation: rather than ﬁt the content into
a pre-deﬁned closed taxonomy, put the users in charge and let them create their own classiﬁcation system through
tagging. Creating such a social environment enables more nuanced ways to map meaning and relationship. Another
advantage is that, since the information within folksonomies is organised and maintained by users, very little work
has to be done to maintain the tagging system after initially setting it up. Despite these advantages, folksonomies are
not a proven technology yet. User Interface Engineering, a leading research, training, and consulting ﬁrm specialising
in web site and product usability concludes:
“At this point, folksonomies are more of an interesting
technology than a tried-and-true design tool.
However, with their ability to let users do most of the
organisational work of the information on a web site,
they may yet prove to be a valuable, time-saving way for
information architects to keep a handle on the addition
of information into an already-burdened architecture.
We’re anxious to see where they go.” 2
NAMAHN Content Mapping 15
Grouping methods for classification
Basically there are four ways to group content objects:
Users are forced to follow a linear path. A wizard uses
this model. This model is useful for training and ﬁrst
A tree-structure is a top-down structure where you start time users.
with a number of broad categories that get ever more
detailed, until you arrive at the information needed. It
is a well-known structure for classifying information.
People have organised information into hierarchies
since the beginning of time. Think of a family tree, a
table of contents, a folder structure, ….
For this reason, trees are the foundation of any
information design. They allow us to get a grip on
a large body of information, and to identify major
content areas. Hierarchical tree-structures, however,
have a major drawback too: by showing only a
restricted set of dimensions at the same time, they
suﬀer from an inﬂexible top-down approach, forcing
users to follow a predetermined, often unfamiliar path.
Therefore it is important to complement tree-structures
with other organisation schemes, providing alternative
points of entry, allowing users to cross-walk the tree.
> MAKE IT HAPPEN, THE CM-METHODOLOGY
Hypertext is the non-linear way of structuring
information by providing (inline) links to other content
A tree may be the most common navigation model objects. Its main advantages:
today, a matrix however, also often referred to as a
faceted taxonomy/classiﬁcation, is quickly gaining • It provides us with great ﬂexibility.
importance. This is primarily for two reasons: • It thrives on serendipity — the accidental
discovery of things.
• A matrix is a bottom-up information structure that
When navigating through hypertext tough, it is easy to
shows all dimensions/facets of a topic simultane-
get lost and become frustrated. In addition, hypertext
ously. A tree only shows a few at the same time.
links are personal in nature — relationships clear to
• A matrix allows for cross-navigation, giving the
one person may not be obvious to others. Because of
user more than one way of exploring the content.
this great potential for complexity and user confusion,
Dimensions can be organised on-the-ﬂy, based on
hypertext should be used to complement structures
how a user chooses to access them.
based upon a hierarchical or matrix model.
Rules of thumb for classifying information:
• Categories in a taxonomy are unambiguous and mutually exclusive - it’s ‘or’, not ‘and’ (e.g. a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable, not
• A taxonomy includes all possibilities.
• Consider the balance between breadth and depth. Breadth refers to the number of (horizontal) options at each level of the tree. Depth
refers to the number of (vertical) levels in the hierarchy. New trees that are expected to grow, tend towards a horizontal rather than
vertical, deep hierarchy.
• In considering breadth, be sensitive to the cognitive limits of the human mind and try to follow the seven plus-or-minus-two rule.
• A good taxonomy is restricted to the top-levels. Lower level content can be retrieved by keyword or full text search.
NAMAHN Content Mapping 17
> MAKE IT HAPPEN, THE CM-METHODOLOGY
Techniques for getting the user involved Surface architecture versus deep architecture
To determine which organisation scheme to use, try to • The users’ mental model (the way users think)
peek into the mind of the user and identify his goals yields the high level or surface structure of a tax-
and tasks. Your understanding of the user will help you onomy.
select or combine the best organisation schemes. Some • The content forms the deep structure of the tax-
well-known techniques for getting the user involved onomy. Here the information the user came for is
• Card sorting
Card sorting involves representative users sorting a
series of cards, each labeled with a piece of content or
functionality, into groups that make sense to them.
Card sorting generates ideas for how information
could be grouped and labeled. 1
• Card-based classiﬁcation evaluation
Card-based classiﬁcation evaluation is a technique for
testing an information architecture before it has been
implemented. The technique involves writing each
level of an information architecture on a large card,
and developing a set of information-seeking tasks for
people to perform using the architecture. 2
What’s in a name?
• Taxonomy: a hierarchical tree-structure used to
store and publish content objects.
• Faceted classiﬁcation: a non-hierarchical matrix-
1 More info: “Card Sorting: A definitve Guide” at
based structure, consisting of multiple tree taxono-
mies used together.
2 More info: “Card-Based Classification Evaluation” at
• Ontology: a more complex organisation scheme
that relates content objects to one another by using
statements such as “X is a Y”, “X is part of Y”.
• Topic maps: an XML-based technical environment
that allows to build ontologies.
NAMAHN Content Mapping 19
• “Structured Writing at twenty ﬁve” by Robert E. Horn
• “The Darwin Information Typing Architecture”
• Argus Centre For Information Architecture:
• AdaptivePath essays
• “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web”
by Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville
• “Information Architecture, Blueprints for the Web”
by Christina Wodtke
• “Information Architecture for Designers”
by Peter Van Dijck
NAMAHN 2006 - v.060124
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